Duncan’s Barrique: Get ready for Germany’s mellifluous 2015s!

Since the turn of the millennium the term ‘vintage of the century’ has been bandied about in Germany with free abandon several times already (for 2005, 2007 and 2009), only for flies to be found in the ointment some time later. But 2015 may well turn out to be the real thing. 
Michael Schmidt
jancisrobinson.com
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the disconnect between the feelings I share with colleagues in the trade about recent vintages in Germany, versus how these are evaluated in the press.  The former group seems to like wines with racy acidity that are, for want of a better phrase, distorted in interesting ways… The leafy, saline, ethereal 2014s, and the wild, almost impossibly-concentrated 2010s are great examples.  The press tend to favor “proper” vintages with a lot of ripeness, and seem to evaluate a vintage mainly on the basis of noble-sweet wines (Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese) that comprise a tiny part of the market.
In any case, 2015 vintage will please all comers; it’s what I like to call a full-spectrum vintage. The wines are delicate, light-handed, and effortless when you want them to be, serious and monumental when you want them to be, and never coarse or heavy.  The best seem combine the richness and power of 2005 with the precision and focus of 1989 or 1990.   It’s an incredible vintage for a lot of reasons; there’s a tremendous plethora of fantastic wines out there, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore styles and producers you might have hitherto overlooked.

“The creamy acid year”

Acidity is one of the most (if not the most) important factors in the balance of a wine.  But anyone who’s tasted the citric tang of clumsily-acidified new world red knows that acidity is not just a number!  One of the distinguishing characteristic of 2015 is a general sense of acid structure that is ripe, creamy, and complete.  This is probably the most important point of contrast with the piercing, saline 2014s and the jittery, sometimes brittle 2013s (though producers with complementary styles made some stunning examples of both!). If anything the acid levels are the same or lower in 2015 as they were in 2013 or 2014, but in most cases they were more effective at their primary role of balancing sweetness and extract, underscoring mineral structure, and just generally pulling the whole wine together.  Overall this means the wines were pleasing and silky right out of the gate, but with the balance and presence for extremely long aging.  

What to look for:

  • The Mosel and Saar, appropriately for the country’s most dynamic regions, produced the greatest share of truly thrilling wines.  In an area capable of so much, I never really saw the need for excessive specialization; thus debates about what the “essential” Mosel wine is never really interested me that much.  That said, the feinherb offerings from Zilliken, Carl Loewen, Peter Lauer, and Selbach-Oster I think are the true treasures in this year’s offerings.
  • Honorable mention goes to the Nahe, a deceptively small region that continues to overdeliver. The wild, soulful, yet transparent wines of Schäfer-Fröhlich have been my favorites here for a while, and his 2015s stand among the best of the vintage (at least of what I have had the opportunity to taste), and the 2015s from Kruger-Rumpf have further cemented their place among the elite of this star-studded region.
  • Also, if you’ve dismissed fruity Kabinett before, think again.  2015 presents a compelling argument for refreshing Kabinett with well-integrated sweetness.  These aren’t like the classic Kabinett of old, mind you.  Full-flavored, semi-sweet 7% alcohol Kabinett has unfortunately gone the way of Napa Cabernet from the valley floor at 12.5%.  Following this, there seemed to be a long period of adjustment in which many of these wines were both excessively sweet and awkwardly tart.  Not so with the 2015s; these were possibly the best collection of young Kabinetts I’ve ever tasted.

2015 is the new 1990

In the new post-climate change reality, a truly “bad” vintage is a rarity in most regions.  Decades ago, Germany only experienced two or three years per decade where many wines were anything more than passable.  Now, good to very good years happen as frequently as they do anywhere.  But truly great years?  I’m not sure I’ve experienced one of those until now.  I can imagine wine lovers, maybe a little bit older than me, who are now wishing they had bought more of the 1990s (not just Germany, but Loire, Burgundy, Champagne, Barolo, Bordeaux, and beyond).  Don’t make the same mistake with the 2015s.  

Posted in Uncategorized

Yannick’s top wine destinations

One of the great perks of being in the wine industry is the opportunity to travel to some of the most remote areas in the world and being introduced to some of the most fascinating individuals. Almost every day I get asked what was my best experience when I visited a wine region.  I have to say that I have been fortunate to have visited some interesting places but sometimes it’s the company that you are with that will make all the difference. My father and I would do a wine trip once a year and it was great because my dad is French and it was always great to see him learn about other wine regions and styles that were not from France. Every so often I look back at some of the pictures and it always brings me back to a special moment and I realize that it will never happen again.
Most people always want to go straight to the source meaning that they want to visit as many wineries as they can. A wine trip would not be complete if you did not visit wineries and taste the wines they make but in my opinion I absolutely just love driving around the vineyards where most of the time there is no one ever around and it is complete solitude. I remember a few years back my dad and I had a bottle of cheap white wine with some sandwiches that we brought with us and just stayed on top of the hill of Cote Rotie for a good hour or so without any stress or worries. There is something so relaxing when you are surrounded by vines and the beauty that comes with it and it offers a good contrast to the concrete jungle of NYC.
My best piece of advice is to visit 1 or 2 wineries a day and not more than that because it can be exhausting and they can be long and also prevent you from visiting the rest of the region. I have been on trade trips where we would do up to 5 wineries a day and taste over 50 wines without ever taking the time to look at the landscape of the region. Understanding how the land is made up of makes such a difference in understanding what makes that region so unique and the final product that goes into your glass. This month I am going to give you my top 5 places that I suggest that you should go; based on my own personal experiences.

Number 5:Margaret River, Australia

  
Australia seems like it’s a million miles away and that’s because it is! However, if you decide to do it and after traveling almost 24 hours you need to stop and just chill out in either Sydney or Melbourne before you begin touring wine country. Australia is a huge country and once you get there you will realize that there is much more to it than Shiraz and Yellowtail. I was in Australia for over 2 weeks and I was fortunate enough to visit most of Australia’s world class regions like the McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley but it’s when we arrived to Perth the capital city of Western Australia that things were going to be very different. The west coast of Australia is one of the most gorgeous places on earth and once I was there I never wanted to leave. We drove down the coast for about 3 hours down to a magical wine region called Margaret River. The Margaret River is absolutely stunning and the wines are delicious they mostly focus on Semillon/ Sauvignon Blends for whites and for reds it is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominated. After a long day of drinking I highly recommend getting a nice bottle of Rose and go to the beach and take a nap.

Number 4: Western Cape, South Africa

  
My good friend and sommelier Jared Fishcher and I decided to go visit the Western Cape in 2012 and I still can remember all the amazing people that I met. We started off in the most famous wine region in all of Africa and that was the Swartland. The Swartland is gorgeous and reminded me a lot of Napa with some old world charm of Bordeaux and Tuscany. However, Jared and I really wanted to go to one place and that was the Swartland where some of the most risk taking winemakers are located. Swartland is located one hour north from Cape Town and be sure that you are in a Jeep because every road is rugged and it is not easy to get around which just adds to the charm. We visited some of the most passionate winemakers who are making some of the best Chenin Blancs and Rhone Varietals in the world. This was by far the most unique wine region that I have ever visited and I do not think there is any other region that I can compare it to.

Number 3: Finger Lakes, New York

I am still convinced that the Finger Lakes is the wine world’s best kept secret. Besides Germany, Austria, and Alsace I truly believe that the Finger Lakes are making world class Rieslings. My wife and I have been coming to the Finger Lakes for the last 3 years and we love driving up here and visiting some of our friends at their wineries. The summers out here are absolutely divine and there are great restaurants using nothing but local produce. My dream is to have a small vacation home by Seneca Lake and who knows do a private label with proceeds going to charity. The drive is 5 hours north from the city so it is a bit of a hike but I promise when you get there you will be in total serenity and you will come back refreshed and energized.

Number 2: Colares, Portugal

Colares is on the coast, northwest of Lisboa, and it is one of the smallest wine regions and most people even in the wine world have never heard of it. Most of the wineries are hidden behind huge walls but if you are lucky to get behind them you will be welcomed to a whole other world. I have been to Portugal on 3 different occasions but my last trip in 2014 really inspired me as I completely fell in love with the culture and the people of Portugal. The most inspiring part about about my Portugal trip was meeting Baron Bruemmer who at 103 years old still is in charge of Casal Santa Maria in Colares. In his late 90s he had a dream to plant vines and went ahead and did it and is making some of the best Portuguese wines! You’re never too old to pursue your dream.

Number 1: Bordeaux, France

The stars were already set for me when I was born; my dad was in the restaurant business and my mother born and raised in Bordeaux-the world capital of wine. I was fortunate to spend my summers in Bordeaux and I loved every minute of it and every once in a while we would take a drive to the vineyards and even as a young boy I felt something good about being around the vines. However, it was not until I was 13 years old and I visited Chateau Giscours in Margaux and it would change my life. I remember walking inside the cave and I was absolutely in love with the smell of the fermenting tanks and that old damp cellar smell. It was then and there that I knew that I wanted to be in world of wine and hospitality. Besides the beauty of the vineyards in both the Medoc and the Right Bank which includes Saint Emilion and Pomerol; Bordeaux city is absolutely stunning and there is so much to do and the beach is only 40 minutes away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted in Uncategorized

Back in the Saddle: A Sommelier once again

One of the things I miss most about working in restaurants is connecting with customers.  When you bring a glass or a bottle of wine to the table, they are going to be drinking right then and there.  To be able to share the experience of a great wine with someone is a joy I truly miss.

Which is why when my friend Georgette, owner/operator of Rotisserie Georgette on the Upper East Side, suggested I come in as a guest sommelier, I jumped at the chance.

Every Tuesday, for the month of June, I’ll be taking over the wine list at Rotisserie Georgette.  My goal in putting together my list is to first and foremost match and compliment the wonderful traditionally styled French cooking on display at Georgette.  It reminds me of the French restaurants I first encountered when I moved to New York in the 80s.  Or, as Pete Wells said in his New York Times review:

“If this restaurant had a clock, its hands would be stopped at five minutes before nouvelle cuisine, when meat was carved to cover the plate and sauce came on the side and nobody turned down potatoes, when people eating a roast with a good but not-too-expensive Bordeaux could hardly imagine a better night out.”

My kind of place🙂

But this is also an exciting opportunity to introduce some of my favorite wines.  From Chidaine in the Loire to Lopez de Heredia Blanco from 2006, Elisabetta Foradori in Trentino to Steve Matthiasson in Napa Valley, really this a chance for me to make the kind of wine list I would be thrilled to discover.

And finally I just can’t wait to be able to get out there and talk with all of you.  So much of our business at Le Du’s is done over e-mail and the phone so I’m really looking forward to being able to talk wine with all of our great customers in person.  Hope to see you soon and cheers!

What:  Jean-Luc Tuesdays

Where:  Rotisserie Georgette

                14 E 60th St, New York, NY

                (212) 390-8060 (Call for Reservations)

When:  Every Tuesday in June (6th, 13th, 20th, 27th)

Wines by the Glass:

Champagne Doyard Brut Vendemiaire NV

La Grange Tiphaine Nouveau Nez Montlouis-sur-Loire 2013

Domaine Tissot Cremant du Jura Rose Extra Brut 2010

Francois Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos du Breuil 2014

Le Clos des Grillons “Les Grillons” Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc 2014

Patrick Javillier “Cuvee Oligocene” Bourgogne Blanc 2013

Lopez de Heredia Gravonia Blanco 2006

Au Bon Climat “Le Du’s Cuvee” Chardonnay 2013

Clos Alivu Corse-Patrimonio Rose 2015

Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Provence Rose 2015

Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014

Foradori Teroldego 2013

Talley Estate Pinot Noir 2013

La Soumade “Prestige” Rasteau 2012

Chateau Yvonne “L’Ile Quatre Sous” Saumur Champigny 2014

Chateau Lanessan Haut Medoc 2002

Ramey Claret Napa Valley 2013

 

Cheers,

Jean-Luc Le Du

 

Posted in Uncategorized

JT’s Random Wine Musings for Memorial Day

Two thousand fifteen

From everything we’ve been hearing, 2015 will be an epically great year in most of the major wine regions in France.  As both a wine lover and a football fan, I tend to look at hyperbolic pronouncements of quality this early in the game in the same way as I do NFL Training Camps.  Everybody’s a winner before the season actually starts.  But the En Premieur tastings have come and gone for Bordeaux and the results look very promising.  Burgundy, specifically the reds from the Cote de Nuits, are going to be enjoying its best vintage since 2010 and will, perhaps, surpass.  We’re hearing the same kind of talk from the Rhone and the Loire.  It’s shaping up to be one of those vintages where if you couldn’t make a great wine in 2015 then you might want to consider a different line of work.

But there is an interesting change in the overall market which those of us in the industry will be watching carefully.  How much power will critics possess when it comes to 2015?  In one of the largest, and most underreported, wine stories of the last year, Robert Parker has quietly stepped out of reviewing Bordeaux, with Neal Martin taking over the duties.  Parker’s ability to move the market is without parallel.  For the last 30 years, especially when it comes to Bordeaux, his opinion of a vintage and the specific superstars were worth untold millions in sales and recognition.  Now, with the rise of the internet wine critic, and the ease at which informal evaluations can travel, it will be a true test to the continued relevance of the wine critic in general to paint a picture of an entire vintage, as opposed to just specific wines.  We have certainly seen a decrease in the Wine Advocate’s power in recent years, with Antonio Galloni’s Vinous moving very much to the fore as the go-to resource for reviews and general judgements.  And we’ve certainly seen Mr. Galloni’s ability to single-handedly drive the fortunes of Italian vintages (Brunello and Barolo 2010 come to mind).  But with Mr. Parker’s departure, the fine wine business might be staring down the first great vintage in its modern history where a single authoritative voice isn’t in the position to give a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down”.

My personal prediction is there will be plenty of excitement about the 2015 vintage but we will see, for the first time, the true effect of the specialized, and sometimes amateur, voices which have risen to prominence in the last decade.  Whether it’s from people like us, who try to offer as unbiased an opinion as possible whilst still making a living, or specialists like Allen Meadows or David Schildknect, or even the dozens of blogs dedicated to small bits of territory, I believe 2015 will be the year where the Voice of God goes silent with an army of prophets in its place.  Ultimately, this is a truly liberating and exciting time for wine (though admittedly more challenging) and will only serve to enhance its diversity.  A single voice is easy to hear but it can only say one thing.  A dozen voices can become a choir.

Winemaking Matters! (Savoy)

File this one under “quick and obvious observations” but we recently did our all Savoy Vineyard dinner, where we compared different producer’s expression of the great Savoy Vineyard in Anderson Valley.  It was a wonderful evening and a truly eye-opening wine experience for me personally but there was one particular point which stuck with me.  Wow, does winemaking matter.  “Well, duh, JT”.  Let me explain.  We were tasting two Pinot Noir right next to each other.  Both were Savoy Vineyard, both from 2012.  One of them was Radio-Coteau and one of them was…not very good.  I’m not going to identify the latter because throwing shade is not what we do but this was about as close to comparing apples and apples as you could possibly get (same varietal, vineyard, and vintage).  One was stunning, the other decidedly mediocre.  Terroir is a tremendously important thing, I would never deny that, but so is its interpreter.

I told this story to Chris Cottrell (one of the owners of Bedrock Vineyard, more on him below) and he said the following, “It’s really hard to make good wine from bad terroir but it’s terrifyingly easy to make terrible wine from great terroir.”  Wow, does winemaking matter J

There really is SO much good champagne

This has been happening quietly and over time so it’s not a particularly mind-shattering revelation but it really is amazing how much good Champagne is currently available.  The rise of the Grower Champagne movement (which are the vignerons who previously sold their grapes to the big houses, of which there are over EIGHT THOUSAND in Champagne, making wine under their own steam) has literally flooded the market with a truly dizzying array of options at all quality levels.  When I first started in wine, there were maybe 20 houses which were extant or worth of note.  Fifteen years later, I could probably name 50 wines off the top of my head.  From the tiniest of boutique producers to resurgent mid-tier houses, I have a hard time believing there has ever been a time when there was more top-level bubbly available to enthusiasts.  We’ve some very neat plans for Champagne related events in the Fall (including a tasting featuring a certain British wine writer whose name rhymes with OO Tonhson) but I would highly encourage anyone who likes Champagne to just start trying bottles.  Truly, it is almost impossible to go wrong nowadays.

2 Awesome California Anecdotes

Anecdotes are the way I make myself seem interesting so here are two of my recent favorites:

Anecdote the First-

Ric Foreman is currently celebrating his 40th vintage in Napa.  He makes one of my favorite Chards in all of California but before he ran his own winery, he was the original winemaker of Newton (this is in the 70s before it was sold to Coca Cola).  He left Newton on not the greatest of terms so he needed a lawyer.  He approached a young Napa attorney by the name of Jess Jackson and, in exchange for some lawyerin’, he gave Jess some pointers on how to make Chardonnay.  That wine became Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay!  Napa Valley has certainly changed!

Anecdote the Second-

I recently met with Chris Cottrell, part owner of Bedrock Winery.  The jewel in their crown is the remarkable Bedrock Vineyard, with some of the oldest heritage vines in all of California.  The original owner was a man by the named of Joseph B. Hooker.  If you’re a Civil War enthusiast, you might recognize his name as one of the bumbling Union Commanders before Lincoln finally found U.S. Grant.  If you’re…a different kind of enthusiast, you might recognize his last name has gone down in the vernacular because of the tremendous number of ladies of questionable morals who followed his army around.  And silent partner in General Hooker’s vineyard venture?  William Tecumseh Sherman!  He was another of the great Generals for the Union (though you might not think too highly of him if you’re from Atlanta).  And the person who bought the Bedrock Vineyard form those two gentlemen?  None other than the father of William Randolph Hearst!  Cool, right?!?

Bourbon is still ridiculous

In the fall, when the Antique Collection from Buffalo Trace is being released, I always fantasize about putting up a sign which reads, “No we do not have Pappy Van Winkle”, just to save myself the breath.  Anyone who is a Bourbon enthusiast must be well aware at this point we are in the deep, dark bottom crest of a serious Bourbon shortage.  Case in point, Elmer T. Lee.  This used to be a bourbon which you’d see on most liquor store shelves.  It would cost around $40-ish.  It was a lovely bottle which was nowhere near the top of the quality pyramid but certainly a LONG WAY from the bottom.  Today, right now, I was just informed my allocation for the QUARTER will be 2 bottles!  And when I looked on line, people are selling it for $200!  Meanwhile, Pappy Van Winkle is selling on the secondary market for thousands of dollars.  And this is not a situation where the Bourbon distilleries are riding the wave of interest right to the bank.  They’re trying to sell everything they can.  The fact is it will be another couple of years before 5+ year old Bourbons IN ANY WAY comes remotely close to matching the demand.  Now, the good news is there has been an explosion of craft distilleries laying down small quantities of all different styles of whiskey over the last couple of years so when we emerge from this Bourbon Black Hole, it will be into the glorious light of a new Golden Age.  But of course that doesn’t do anything for those of us who just need a drink…

Kelli White is Wonderful

We recently hosted Kelli A. White, full-time writer for Vinous Media and author of the best wine book of 2016, Napa Valley: Then & Now, for a tasting and book signing.  First of all, she is one of my new favorite people.  She couldn’t have been nicer or more generous with her time/knowledge.  But what really made my heart get up and sing was the casual way in which she spoke of the older vintages of Napa Valley.  As the long time wine director of Press, whose wine list is almost exclusively based on Napa going back decades, she has more experience than nearly anyone living with the bygone vintages of Napa.  It was wonderful to hear her speak about Napa in the way usually reserved for Bordeaux or Burgundy or Barolo.  It is perhaps too little, too late but I am sensing a growing awareness in the wine community as to how strong were the wines of the late 70s through the middle 90s, not to mention the pre-modern (let’s call it the Tchelistcheff Era, or perhaps just write as I can’t pronounce that man’s name).  I had a bottle of 1993 Groth recently which was STUNNING.  The trouble is the perception of Napa Valley Cabernet being a perfect candidate for pop and pour means there is a tragic dearth of older bottles lounging in people’s cellars.  Unlike the great regions of Europe, there just aren’t many (or any) massive collections of older Napa Cab.  Even if there were, Kelli’s book represents, to my mind, the first shot fired over the bow of popular perception regarding the extreme worth of Napa Valley at 20+ years of bottle age.  I truly hope people get hip and older Napa Cabs start popping out of the woodwork once a market develops.  After all, the Groth 93 had a little price tag on it for $15.  I asked my friend if that was the price on release.  He said, “No, I just found it in a shop in Connecticut”.  Regardless, California wine lovers owe Ms. White a big debt of gratitude.  She has written Napa Valley’s truly definitive account and for that I am truly thankful!

Congrats to Yannick & Heidi

Finally, I want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to our own Yannick Benjamin who married Ms. Heidi Turzyn, Wine Director Gotham Bar & Grill, last Sunday.  I’m not entirely sure how Yannick tricked such a wonderful woman into marrying him we’re truly happy for them both.  If anyone reading this would like to send along congratulations, I would recommend donating to Yannick’s charity, Wheeling Forward by clicking here.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Roman Roads, Microbes, and The Magic of Human Intention: A Rambling Exploration of Terroir

If you look at a map of original Roman roads cutting through France, you’re also looking at a map of the great wine regions.  As the Roman armies moved through Gaul (as they would have called it), they left vines behind them.

mape.pngThere are some interesting concepts here once you unpack them.  On one hand, it would seem to make a lie of terroir.  The notion of individual plots of land yielding exceptional fruit which transcends and transmits the vineyard is so ingrained in our modern idea of wine, it seems a bit startling to think it all might be an accident of where the Romans built their highways.  If you look at the map, one of the major roads goes straight up the Rhone into Burgundy.  Granted, they’re also following rivers but it begs the question, if the roads had been somewhere else, would Burgundy be somewhere else?  A complicated question with a complicated answer.

First, I want to assume that something exceptional would be exceptional no matter the circumstance.  In other words, I have to hope the Cote D’Or would be discovered whether or not the Romans built a road.  But then I turn back to something a winemaker from California said to me once:

“For all we know, the greatest vineyard in California is the parking lot of a Burger King.”

Jean-Luc helpfully pointed out, when I confronted him with my mental musings, the great wine regions of France became recognized through a vinous form of natural selection.  These roads (and rivers) carried wine to cities.  Over the millennia, people started noticing how good was the wine from one place and how terrible from the other.  So we can say, perhaps the great terroir of France was originally “discovered” because of the roads but their quality, over long time, elevated them into what they are today.  I still wonder what would have happened had the Cote D’Or or the Northern Rhone not been planted with vines until much, much later because some Roman Senatorial decree decided to build a road going a certain direction?  Obviously, the evolution of the regions would be wildly different but would they even have existed at all?  Or rather, would they have been already made into the medieval equivalent of a Burger King parking lot?

This is all circling around the concept of primacy of terroir.  I’ve heard the phrase (or a variation) “We are trying to let our land speak” too many times to count.  But the question of how much is the winemaker and how much is the land is a central debate in wine.  It also assumes every bit of land has something interesting to say.  I always think of this in terms of my background as a playwright.  It is possible, and decently common, for great acting/directing/designing to elevate bad writing into something worthwhile.  The opposite is rarely true.  In other words, a great winemaker can make very good wine from not-so-great land but great land can be easily ruined by vapid winemaking.  Logically, this leads us to a place where we can re-state the obvious wisdom; great land plus great winemaking equals great wine.  What it doesn’t do is help us answer what exactly makes great land.  Why did generations of wine drinkers decide the wines of the Cote D’Or were something special while rejecting wines from the other side of the Roman highway?

There are several technical answers to this question.  I’m not going to go at all deeply into them here as there have been many books written about this topic and I am neither qualified nor inclined to put my hat in that particular ring.  That being said, things like geological mixtures, drainage, micro-climates, and wind patterns are the traditional answers to what makes great terroir.  But what makes the magic?  Physically, it is impossible for rock molecules to transmit themselves into grapes so saying “there’s this much slate, this much schist” is why a wine is amazing doesn’t make a terrible amount of sense.  Drainage and micro-climate, on the other hand, is terribly important, as stress, both water and weather, on the vines at the exact right times is what is going to give you the great fruit you need to make great wine.  But, again, where does the magic come from?  Why is a great bottle of wine a spiritually gripping experience?

The answer might be microbes.  There have been some very interesting studies done recently which have attributed the terroir of a wine to the specific mix of microbiological activity.  It’s a very new field of study and there is still debate about the importance of the microbes of the yeast versus the microbes of the soil itself but, nevertheless, this intuitively makes sense (click here if you’d like to read a very thorough and very boring example of this type of research).  Words like “organic” or “biodynamic” carry huge weight in the world of modern wine.  At the base level, this just means the vignerons are not dousing their soil with chemicals, rendering them inert (which is to say, free of microbiological activity).  While there are always exceptions to the rule, the wines which consistently tug on the heart strings are those which have “living” soil (filled with microbes) and use indigenous yeast (the yeast in the air/winery/on the grapes instead of yeasts made in a laboratory designed specifically to favor certain attributes over others in the finished wine).  Personally, I believe the answer to the riddle of terroir will be found in this microbial landscape.

However, this brings up a hypothetical which I believe is the key to how you feel about terroir.  Can great terroir be re-created in an artificial environment?  Let me explain.  We’ll take an undeniably great single vineyard like Musigny in Burgundy.  Let’s fast forward into the future a bit and say there has been a complete chemical mapping performed on the microbiological sequences of both what exists in the soil and the indigenous yeasts.  At the same time, we have excruciatingly detailed weather reports from all of the great modern (post 21st century) vintages.

So what is to stop someone, in the not-so-distant future, from exactly re-creating the slope/drainage, soil composition, microbial content, and minute to minute weather variations in a controlled environment which would exactly recreate a Musigny from a great vintage?  Is it still Musigny?  Do the concepts of terroir still apply?  Most importantly, if you tasted the actual Musigny next to the virtual Musigny, would it be the same?

I say, No.

Why, No?

Simple.

Magic.

Human intention has consequence.  Why would the actual Musigny be different than the virtual one?  Because the actual Musigny has had millennia of humans pouring their spirits into the soil.  Is it a coincidence the Cote D’Or was farmed by holy men for nearly a thousand years?  These were men spending their lives contemplating God and lavishing attention into the soil.  Are we to believe it is just an amazing happenstance these vineyards also happen to be a perfect blend of soil, drainage, and microbial combination?  It has nothing to do with hope or love or magic?  The land remembers.  It holds all of the devotion, all of the dreams, all of the spirit of every human who has worked the soil.  It’s why, despite being next to each other, Volnay and Pommard are so wonderfully different.  Because people making Volnay expect to make Volnay, because Pommard knows itself.  Why is To-Kalon, a valley floor vineyard like many others, the greatest single site in Napa?  Because people have been BELIEVING in To-Kalon for 120 years.  That energy has to go somewhere.  I believe it goes into the ground.  And when you are magically transported by a bottle wine, when it seems to speak in a language only the heart and soul can understand, what you’re experiencing is more than just soil type or drainage conditions or microbial patchwork.  It is the culmination of all of the above.

Land.

History.

Magic.

Posted in Uncategorized

Yannick’s Barrique: Unicorn Wines

It is not every day that you get to taste wines from Bodegas Vega Sicilia of Spain and meet the owner of Burgundy ‘s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in the space of a few weeks. Three weeks ago I had the honor of opening and decanting a very rare bottle of 1966 Vega Sicilia “Unico” Gran Reserva from Ribera del Duero, 2 hours north from the capital city of Madrid. There is no question that what Château Latour is to Bordeaux, Vega Sicilia has become to Ribera del Duero and probably all of Spain. Vega Sicilia was founded by Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, a Spanish winemaker who was trained in the Bordeaux wine region of France. When he returned to his homeland of Castile, Don Eloy brought with him several Bordeaux grape varieties. In the 20th century, Vega Sicilia earned a reputation as being one of the most notable wines in Spainunicorn

Being born in 1978, having the opportunity to open a bottle that is older than me always gets me excited and, of course, makes me realize how lucky I am to be a sommelier. When I opened the “Unico” I was blown away by the sheer depth and complexity of this perfectly stored bottle.

It was quite evident that the owner of this gem of a wine had kept it under perfect storage conditions which would require the wine to stay clear of any direct light, heat, and as little movement as possible. After I decanted the wine and I poured it into my glass for a taste, it was clear that this wine was going to have characteristics that you normally do not find in other wines. Immediately, it expressed aromas of dust, leather, and one of my favorite aromas when it comes to great wines: dried leaves and forest floor. Another aspect that made this wine so great was its tremendous length; what I mean by length is that I could still taste the wine and other aromas were penetrating my brain 10 minutes after my first taste.

When I first started to learn about wine and would read articles from Jancis Robinsion, Hugh Johnson, and Michael Broadbent – writers that I deeply respect and admire – they would talk about wines that they could still taste months after trying it; at the time I was personally dubious. However, as years have gone by and I have developed my palate from tasting over 4,000 wines on a yearly basis, I can honestly say that this is absolutely true, but it does not happen often, even with great wines. A great wine or what we like to call a “Unicorn Wine” in the wine industry is a wine that will make you feel nostalgic and emotional. When I tasted the “Unico” from Vega Sicilia I immediately was transcended back to my grandmother’s farmhouse that I would stay at in Brittany for the summer; it had all the aromas that took me back to the farmhouse.

The 1966 Unico was certainly one of the best wines I have had in the last three years and so far, the best wine that I have tasted in 2016.  I do certainly plan on tasting some more great wines before the year is over.

aubertBesides the perks of opening and tasting rare wines, one of my favorite parts of the job is meeting the personalities behind the wine label.  Two weeks ago I had the fortune of tasting the complete lineup of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, probably the most expensive wines in the world and not to mention the hardest wines to obtain because of their uniquely small production. However, the best part of the tasting was having the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the owner of DRC, the formidable Aubert de Villaine.

Of course the wines were amazing and I should only be so lucky to taste them but it is sometimes it’s the simple conversations that come from drinking great wines with interesting individuals that bring me the most joy in what I do.  When Aubert de Villaine, the owner of Burgundy’s most renowned Domaine came up to me we didn’t just talk about wine, we were just talking about our respective career paths. Though I have met him a few times before, this was the first time we really had a chance to have an insightful conversation.  I felt like a kid who had been collecting the baseball cards of my favorite player and now I was meeting him face-to-face.  These were two very special moments for me, and I look forward to many more!

Posted in Uncategorized

Jean-Luc’s Barrique: The Crowning of the Loire

 

Last nigbreton1ht (Thursday) Pierre Breton celebrated 30 years of making wine at his eponymous estate in Bourgueil, Loire Valley. Pierre’s generosity was on display for this rare event as he opened multiple vintages of his best wines (and mostly from magnums) going back to 1985, his first vintage. The most outstanding wines were the 2005, 1996 and 1990 Bourgueil Les Perrieres. On an intellectual level, my favorite wine was the 2001 from the same vineyard. Thank you Pierre. As you got us to sing an inebriated version of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up, Stand Up for Your Wines” it was easy to feel the love and camaraderie in the room

The Loire Valley has come a long way. For ever it was only known in the US because Pouilly Fume was an easy name to remember but over thirty years ago a new generation of producers went on a quest for quality and recognition and a genially cantankerous New Yorker named Joe Dressner (alongside his wife Denyse) started importing some of their wines in the United States. He believed in naturally made wines but was not dogmatic. The list of estates he discovered in the Loire is long but includes Clos Rougeard, Didier Dagueneau, La Pepiere and Bernard Baudry, some of this area’s greatest domaines. Without his pioneering work, the natural wine movement may not have been embraced so thoroughly in this country.

During the nineties, the Loire became a testing ground for all sorts of organic viticultural practices. Nicolas Joly was an early proponent of biodynamics and the concept of natural wines first devised by Jules Chauvet in the Beaujolais took the Loire by storm. While I have issues with the drinkability of many natural wines offerings, there definitely are super stars in the lot like Damien Delecheneau (La Grange Tiphaine), Marc Plouzeau, Domaine Fosse-Seche among many others.

Areas of the Loire that for decades offered cheap dry whites like Muscadet have found new appreciation among wine lovers through the dedication of estates like Jo Landron, Domaine de l’Ecu and La Pepiere. These terroirists introduced us to the notion that Muscadet was a land of many terroirs that should be appreciated for their differences. The INAO responded and the region has now three new subdivisions: Clisson (Granit), Gorges (Clay and quartz) and Le Pallet (Gneiss and sandstone). Wine lovers have also started discovering how great Muscadet can be with some bottle age. I urge you to discover current releases of older vintages from Luneau Papin which are usually 8-12 years old.

 

I came back two weeks ago from a few days of tasting at the Loire Valley’s annual Salon des Vins de Loire and other satellite tasting such as Les Penitents and La Dive Bouteille that showcase exclusively natural wines. It was exciting yet a little overwhelming to see these wine fairs that once were a fairly sleepy affair now overtaken by wine lovers from around the world (big contingents from Japan and the US were present this year) and importers looking for the next big thing.

The good news: 2014 and 2015 is a great pair of vintages in the Loire Valley for very different reasons. 2014 is a very classic Loire Valley vintage (the locals call this ligerian). The whites are generally nervy, alive and rich without heaviness. This may be the best vintage white Loire vintage in ages. The reds are also delicious and well delineated. 2015, which is a warmer vintage, privileges red wines. This may actually be the best vintage for reds since 2005. The whites are a little more complicated with some of them lacking a bit of acidity.

It is still early to make definitive predictions but I’ve been very excited about our new arrivals from Chidaine in 2014 and can’t wait for the first bottled 2015 reds to hit our shore.

It is indeed a great time to discover (or rediscover) the Loire Valley. I promise you won’t be disappointed🙂

Posted in Uncategorized